Sometimes older children should meddle in parents divorce

Family law solicitors know only too well that when parents divorce safeguarding the interests of young children is the priority for everyone, and generally shapes all other aspects such as what happens with the matrimonial home, maintenance payments, and the divorce settlement.

It would be easy to think that a divorce becomes less complicated if the children have grown up and moved out, but an article in The Telegraph looks at the problem many family law solicitors encounter when handling the divorce of an older couple - the meddling children. The increase in divorces in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK among over-60s means dealing with older children of a divorce is becoming increasingly more common for family law solicitors.

The article discusses how children will get involved in their parent's separation, encouraging one side to "dig their heels in and raise their demands", or trying to convince the couple to stay together even though they are certain that the relationship is beyond repair. The article also talked about children trying to protect their inheritance by preserving the relationship, or getting one of the parties to change their Will to keep their assets out of the reach of future half-siblings.

The article does touch upon a very valid problem - older children getting involved in the separation of their parents can from time-to-time cause undue stress, and add unnecessary animosity and complication to the separation. However, there is another side to the story - sometimes it is perfectly right for children to get involved when their parents divorce.

Putting aside the very small percentage of divorces were grown up children seek to get involved to protect their own interests, and from experience it is a small percentage, children can provide invaluable help and assistance to their parents during a divorce.

How children of any age will react to a divorce depends significantly on the factors behind the separation. A split caused by adultery is more likely to result in children taking sides than a divorce were the couple are simply agreed that they have grown apart. That obviously then alters the advice they give and the level to which they get involved. Recent ONS figures suggest that behavioural problems or infidelity is the reason behind divorce petitioned by 37 per cent of males aged over-60, and 60 per cent of women aged over-60, so there is an inherent amount of animosity in a large number of divorces involving people over-60.

In the majority of cases children get involved to protect the parent they feel is the most aggrieved in the case of an infidelity/behaviour motivated split. Where the separation is entirely amicable children will often get involved to protect the parent who they feel requires most assistance or protection.

A large number of the over-60s couples that are separating now had a traditional family set-up where the husband took care of all the financial matters, and the wife took care of the home. It is not uncommon for the wife to be relatively uninformed about the finances of the couple when they come to separate, and they can benefit from some help and advice from a loved one - if even just to steer them in the direction of a family law solicitor.

There is also a fairly common attitude among older divorcing couples to want to separate quietly without drawing much attention to the fact, and this can sometimes result in the spouses not taking proper legal advice. Between them they might cover the basics about their property and savings, but there are other more complex issues that often need sorted, such as the husband's pension, particularly in the older traditional family structure were the wife has stayed at home after marriage. These are issues the grown up children might be more knowledgeable on and can steer their parent or parents in the right direction.

With regards to encouraging divorcing parents to change their Will, this is actually good advice, irrespective of the motive. Most couples do not contemplate a divorce when drafting their Will, and the most common arrangement is for everything to pass to the surviving spouse and then the children. After a divorce it is unlikely that the spouses will want anything to be given to their 'ex', so a Will alteration is sound advice.

Divorce at any age brings with it a lot of emotion, including blame. Children may be right to get involved, and the large majority do it with the best intentions. At the very least, older children can advise their parents to get proper legal advice to make sure the divorce settlement they agree upon is fair to all parties, and is based on all the relevant information.

We at Wilson Nesbitt try at best to manage our client’s expectations and from the outset advise the client that the divorce process can be stressful, protracted and costly and that clients should fortify themselves with a good support system of friends and family.

If you require legal advice from a divorce solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by calling 0800 840 1363.